Breaking Night


Liz Murray

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Themes and Colors
Willpower and Independence Theme Icon
Poverty Theme Icon
Drugs and Addiction Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Sex and Power Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Breaking Night, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Willpower and Independence

Elizabeth “Liz” Murray, the writer, narrator, and protagonist of the memoir Breaking Night, has a hard life. She grows up in a poverty-stricken household in the Bronx in the 1980s, at a time when New York City is experiencing historic levels of violent crime. Her parents are drug addicts, and as a result they ignore her for long stretches of time and sometimes don’t even remember to buy her food. And yet, by…

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Liz Murray grows up in extreme poverty. Often, she has no idea when her next meal is going to come, or where she’s going to sleep. Poverty shapes her behavior and her character in many ways, and over the course of her memoir, Liz discusses the influence that extreme poverty has had on her life. At the same time, she acknowledges that different people respond to poverty differently and, furthermore, that she’s an outlier in…

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Drugs and Addiction

Even while she’s still a small child, Liz Murray is surrounded by drug addicts. Her parents use various painkillers, as well as cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Furthermore, most of their friends use drugs of some kind almost every day. Some of these friends (such as Ma’s boyfriend Brick, who drinks heavily but also has a job) seem relatively high-functioning. Others seem to do nothing but get high. When she’s still young, Liz doesn’t…

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Throughout the book, Liz Murray has a difficult relationship with her family. Her parents ignore her for drugs, and sometimes disappear for days when they should be taking care of their daughter. In return, Liz is often put in the position where she has to take care of her parents, instead of the other way around: in particular, she comforts Ma when Daddy isn’t around (which is quite often). Liz also has a tough relationship…

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Sex and Power

From a very young age, Liz Murray is hyperaware of sex and sexuality all around her. Each stage of her life reflects a different view of sexuality, and indeed, her coming-of-age can be interpreted in terms of her changing relationship to sexuality.

While Liz is still young, she’s aware of sex, but she sees it in an almost entirely negative light. Sex symbolizes danger: the dangers of sexual predation and, a little later, the dangers…

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